I am so excited to have Tia Chapinski and Daniella Virijevic on today’s show talking about guiding through your infertility with the Infertility Doulas.
Tia Chapinski is a certified medical assistant for the last 15 years and currently a volunteer for Mentor North, which is a community-based mentoring organization. She aspires to change the world of infertility.
Daniella Virijevic has an MBA in IT leadership and Master of Arts in change leadership from the College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. She’s an advocate for women and infertility.
Dr. Aimee: Thank you for joining us today and thank you for all the work that you’re doing. I can’t wait to hear you guys share your stories and learn about your upcoming book. Let’s start with your personal journeys first. Daniella?
Daniella Virijevic: My husband and I started trying to conceive back in March 2004. Yes, we’re in 2021, so that computes to about 17 years of me still not giving up hope. I have Dr. Aimee to thank for my recent charge of still having hope.
We were diagnosed with male factor infertility about a year after trying to conceive, in 2005. We were supposed to start on our first IVF cycle, we were so excited. My husband’s insurance covered it at 90%, which when you’re first starting you have no idea about insurance, no idea about what costs what, where, or how, you’re so ignorant to many things.
We couldn’t get started because my husband’s count was so low that they wanted him to see a specialist at Northwestern in Chicago before we went on. So, he had a varicocelectomy and removed about 14 varicoceles. I thought, bingo, we’re ready to go, we’re going to be able to have kids naturally, no more need for IVF or anything like that.
About 6 to 12 months later, when you start to do some more testing to test the sperm again, we found that it went up a little, but it was still at about a million to three million per milliliter, which is still very low considering the average.
We ended up moving to Colorado. We found out insurance didn’t cover IVF at my husband’s new job. So, we traveled to Canada for our first IVF cycle in 2007. Our first IVF cycle didn’t end up working and we didn’t have anything to freeze. We were young at the time we felt hopeless, but we got back on our feet. Within a couple of years, we moved back to Duluth, Minnesota.
I started working for a company that actually covered insemination, and decided to try it. We went through about nine intrauterine inseminations and none of them stuck, nothing worked.
In 2014, we had another IVF cycle. We went to Mexico for that, again because of finances, and we didn’t know of any other place that was affordable in the United States, so we went down there for that. We had a wonderful experience with the reproductive endocrinologist and the embryologist. I ended up having one six day embryo that we transferred, and within a week my cycle came. We were devastated, of course, because we were like, “What is going on? Why isn’t it working?”
In between that time, in 2012 I got pregnant naturally, just out of the blue, but that ended in a chemical pregnancy at about 5 weeks. Up until this time, we’ve done everything and even got pregnant naturally and had a chemical pregnancy. It still gave us hope that something will happen one day.
In 2019, we went ahead with our third IVF cycle. We flew out to Syracuse, New York to CNY, and Dr. Kiltz was our RE. We had a great response, I had 8 mature eggs and we had 6 embryos. The two that we transferred first, it was a fresh transfer, I got pregnant. The first time we saw a gestational embryonic sac on the ultrasound, the first time we saw a heartbeat.
At nine weeks, when we went in for our ultrasound, unfortunately, the heart had stopped beating. I ended up having a D&C at 11 weeks. The fetus was tested and everything was normal, and we found that it was a girl.
Things can be tough, but when you have people like Tia in your life and people in a support group, it’s awesome. The whole reason why we have written this book. That’s where we are right now. We still have hope, we’re still going to try again. I’ve been listening to a lot of recommendations from you, Dr. Aimee, about being 40,doing some duo stim cycles and making some embryos, possibly doing testing and all of that.
We’re going to go full steam ahead one more time and then we’re at that point of do we keep going or do we choose an alternate path or do we remain child-free.
Dr. Aimee: Thank you, Daniella, for sharing. I really appreciate it. We can hear your strength and resilience in your story. I hope other people who are listening learn so much from you and your strength.
I think of infertility as a chronic medical problem. I think sometimes we’re in a society where people want a quick fix, and sometimes it just isn’t as easy as that. Thank you.
Tia, please share your story with us as well.
Tia Chapinski: Daniella is starting to make me cry right off the bat here. My story is different, which I think also brought us together. My journey actually started when I was 12 years old. I didn’t know it at the time, until I started trying to have a baby.
I had my very first period and it was horrific. My parents took me to the emergency room for heavy bleeding, I had enormous blood clots coming out. As a 12 year old little girl, it’s a very scary thing. I had my very first pelvic exam that day in the emergency room. Coming out of it, they were just trying to stop the bleeding because it was so heavy. I ended up with having a pediatrician because I was still a child, and I had to go see a gynecologist every year.
I was never officially diagnosed until I was starting to try to conceive. I remember I was just being told this is normal, you have heavy periods. Every year I would ask, they were putting me on so many birth control pills, I would get the Depo shot to stop the bleeding, I would constantly be confused. You don’t understand all of this as a teenager and you’re not even trying to have a baby as a teenager.
I would constantly ask, “Am I going to have trouble someday having a baby?” None of my friends went to a gynecologist at our age and no one else seemed to have the type of problems that I was having. I was always told, “You’ll be okay. We’ll keep you on the birth control. You’ll have a baby someday, I’m sure there won’t be a problem.”
At the age of 31, after years of trying, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, adenomyosis, and my uterus was covered in fibroids. All those years, and no one could tell me what was wrong. I would be vomiting, anemic, it would feel like I had a sharp knife going into me every single month, my cycles would come multiple times a month. It was really horrific. Still to this day, I don’t even know how I went through that every month for years and years.
Unfortunately, I’ve never had a positive pregnancy test, ever. For everyone who is going to read the book, this is like a little warning. I actually did end up making the choice to have a total hysterectomy in my early 30s. It was either I wanted a biological child or I wanted to be done. I know endometriosis has no cure, but with the adenomyosis, I could take my uterus out and be done with that, so I am uterus and period free. Unfortunately, I don’t have a biological child.
Dr. Aimee: You guys met through RESOLVE. Tell me about RESOLVE, for people who don’t know what that is.
Daniella Virijevic: RESOLVE is the National Infertility Association. They are dedicated in making sure that people have the information and the knowledge, that they are supported by their community. They’re advocates in the infertility world, so they unite people through that.
RESOLVE is the National Infertility Association that has been around since the early ’70s. So many people, until they get on this path of fertility or infertility, however you want to call it, they have no idea that there is this big organization that has been around for a long time supporting so many things, advocating for laws and things to help not only with fertility, like insurance coverage or mandating. Insurance coverage is currently mandated in 16 states and they have helped with those states to become mandated, for example. Or adoption laws and things like that.
I found RESOLVE in 2010 when I joined the Midwest RESOLVE Family Building Summit in Minneapolis. I attended that conference, and I was so full of hope and community, I said, “Oh my gosh, I am not alone.” There were 150 people there. “Oh my gosh, I have friends, family, and people that know exactly what I’m going through.” It felt so good. At that time, I just felt the calling to start the peer-led support group through RESOLVE in Duluth, Minnesota. That is where Tia and I got together.
Dr. Aimee: How did your journeys inspire you guys to write your book?
Daniella Virijevic: About five years into my journey, I said that if I got through this, no matter which side of it I ended up on, that I wanted to write a book so that someone like myself didn’t have to do all of the digging and research and things that I had to do to learn everything that I did. When I started, there were blogs in the world wide web somewhere and you had to search really well to hop into them. A lot of them pertained to pregnancy, not infertility or IVF. That was my goal, one day I will write a book. Tia can tell you her side.
Tia Chapinski: I decided to write a blog. I started it on Mother’s Day. I was really against Mother’s Day at the time, when I was still trying to get pregnant. I started that blog in 2018 on Mother’s Day. I did an article for Pregnantish Magazine. I also am a stepmom, my husband does have a biological child. I wrote an article and was a cover girl for Stepmom Magazine.
Then I was like, “I need to write a book.” I just felt the urge that there’s something else that I need to do. I’m not going to have biological children on this Earth, but there’s something else that I need to do to help other people through this, because it is just horrific to go through.
I actually met our publisher in high school, we were on the swim team together and went to high school together. She is based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, so I reached out to her and got that going. I knew I couldn’t write the book with Daniella, because she’s like an infertility guru, so we got together and said we’re going to write a book, let’s do it, let’s help other people out.
Dr. Aimee: That’s a great story. I love the connections that you guys have with each other and your friend from high school. Kind of like Paula, my producer, the universe brings us all together for this incredible mission to improve the lives of people that are around us. You’re certainly doing that.
What exactly does an infertility doula do?
Tia Chapinski: Our publisher actually came up with our name. When we were formatting ideas and rolling around, “How are we going to write this book,” she came up with the idea if a doula can help women and couples through the birthing process, the pregnancy process, the postpartum process, why couldn’t there be an infertility doula to help women, men, and couples through their fertility journey. There should be someone there to coach, to guide, to support, because there really isn’t a lot of those resources available. A lot of people feel alone. I remember spending countless nights on Google trying to figure everything out.
That’s kind of how we created an infertility doula. Hopefully, with our book we are hoping to go into service of actually being infertility doulas, coaching and supporting and having that available to people who want it and need it.
Dr. Aimee: I think that’s a great idea. Your book focuses on “your body,” “your life,” and “alternative paths to parenthood.” What do people need to know about these three aspects that you talk about in your book? Can you walk through them for us?
Daniella Virijevic: “Your body” starts out and talks about infertility, how common it is, why we’re doing what we’re doing, as well as trying after miscarriage, choosing the right doctor, potential of losing friends and family members, or not talking about it at all. Then fun stuff like love in the lab, so making things interesting with the reproductive endocrinologist through treatments that you might have. There are anecdotes and things that some that have been down this path for a while know, like having our dates with ‘Wanda’ and pee-on-a-stick-aholics, so there’s some fun stuff about your body.
We all know that not only are you affecting your body through all of these treatments and everything, your life is affected. Finances are a huge one for fertility services, of course. A lot of people, unfortunately, have to make their decision based on how much it costs. We hope we raise enough money, sell enough books, and we do well to be able to give a grant for somebody to be able to have a cycle who would have never had a chance. I pray that we’ll be able to do that.
“Your life” is also your marriage. What Tia and I have gone through, our husbands have obviously been beside us through this entire time and we’re so thankful for their support for us going through everything that we’re going through. But there are some people who go through this alone. A single mom by choice, for example.
Then there comes the psychology piece of it, too. It being okay for you to see a therapist and getting help. Pushing that out there, it is okay if you’re not okay, go and get help. There are people out there that will help you.
Then “alternative paths to parenthood” is where we really hone in on getting giving color to adoption, foster care, donor embryo, donor egg, donor sperm, surrogacy, and the ultimate choice that some folks have to make, living child-free.
We get through a lot of stuff. We know that it will be really helpful for those who are starting, for those who are in the middle, and for those support folks that know nothing about what’s going on, just for them to take this and read it will make them a big supporter for their loved one going through it.
Dr. Aimee: I agree. I think it’s so important to build your fertility team at the beginning of your journey. I think any book that can help people just become more aware of what that journey might look like for them, because you just don’t know until you start it, is extremely powerful and helpful.
I’m so glad that you’ve also included alternative paths to parenthood in the book. I know that your mission is to break down the stigma around infertility, and I think you’re definitely doing that, so thank you. We definitely need more people bringing awareness to the realities of infertility in today’s society.
You mentioned a little bit about your mission and how you’re approaching it and where you see it again. Big picture, just call out those big picture things that you see happening with your mission.
Tia Chapinski: I’ve always envisioned it, which is why I had to get Daniella involved and needed to talk to my friend who is a publisher, these are things that I never ever dreamed of doing, but there was something tugging at me telling me that I needed to do this. I think our big mission is we want to get this resource out to as many people as possible. We want to have services available to people so that they’re not alone. We want that to be in clinics, hospitals, all over, this resource that, “I have this for you. I know this can help you.”
We have so many different topics, which is why it took us three years to write this book. We have journaling pages in the back. We have acronyms. We have different physicians and therapists. We have so many different resources in this book. We want it to go all over, and even worldwide. I would love for it to be global, everywhere. We need to talk about infertility.
You’re not alone, we’re here for you, you don’t have to go through this alone. This book is going to do that.
Dr. Aimee: That’s so true. I love that you say, “This has not been an easy journey, but we are here because of it.” It sounds like you are both well versed in keeping the hardships you’ve encountered in perspective.
Can you share with us so we can learn from you and your experiences what has kept you focused and positive on your journey?
Daniella Virijevic: What has kept me focused is friends like Tia that have been through similar things and keeps my eye on the prize. My husband, of course, making sure we’re on the same level as far as our plans go. Then providers, physicians, and friends like yourself, Dr. Aimee, people like you that come out here willingly, voluntarily, having your IG Lives, your podcast, and all of your resources, answering email questions, you’ve answered two of mine, answering questions on Instagram and everything.
That’s what keeps us positive and focused, because people like yourself give us hope. Other physicians, therapists, influencers, everybody, I think just the community starting to really — not bubble up, but I think there’s so much more that is coming now. So many women are talking more about freezing their eggs because they do want to have babies, but maybe not right now, because they haven’t found a partner or they want their career, or whatever. It’s just becoming more normalized, it’s not as shameful or taboo or, “You don’t have a baby yet. You’re getting old.”
All of that keeps me pretty focused on my journey and on my path, and with our goals for this book.
Dr. Aimee: Tia, do you want to add something to that?
Tia Chapinski: For me, definitely Daniella has been a huge influence in this whole process. We are self-published, we invested our own money into this passion project. This is a passion for us, we want to do this to help other people.
Definitely my husband has been my biggest support, my biggest fan. My stepdaughter has definitely been that child in my life, something that I wouldn’t have at all because I biologically can’t do it. It’s been great being a role model for her and having her in my life.
We also rescue dogs and have dogs. Pretty much dogs have saved me through this entire thing. They have unconditional love. Rescue a dog, they are the best ever. That’s pretty much what has gotten me through this whole thing. Our family and friends, of course, have definitely been by our side.
Dr. Aimee: Thank you for those tips. Those sound like great tips for people who find themselves very discouraged, for sure. Daniella, do you have any tips that you want to share?
Daniella Virijevic: Talk about it, speak up, don’t keep it in. There are others like yourself out there that will help you through it. There are many online support groups now, thankfully. We’re here, we’re available.
Don’t listen to the negativity. You’re going to have people that don’t understand and will never understand. That’s not their fault necessarily. They’ve never been through it, they’ll never truly understand what you’re going through.
Relaxing is not going to help necessarily, or going on vacation, it’s not going to just presto make a baby. Let that go in one ear and out the other. It’s much better than carrying it inside. That’s what I’ve learned also. That’s one of my biggest tips is just let things flow, let things go.
Dr. Aimee: Right. I wish people would remember to listen with your ears and not your mouth.
Daniella Virijevic: Yes.
Dr. Aimee: It sounds like your book will be a great resource, a mix of information, education, support, and journaling. Is there anything else you want to share with us about your book?
Tia Chapinski: We have a website and we have social media pages to follow us on. Our preorder campaign is actually on IndieGoGo and our links are on all of our outlets. Preorder our book. We want to print as many copies as we can and get it out there.
Dr. Aimee: I love it. Daniella, is there anything else that you want to add today?
Daniella Virijevic: Besides you’ve got this and you’re just amazing for everything that you’re going through, and it’s okay, just by reading this article, I think you should have realized that you are definitely not alone. There are people out there willing to help you and be supportive. Just know that we’re there.
Tia Chapinski: Thank you, Dr. Aimee, for having us. This was really cool and amazing.
Daniella Virijevic: Yes. Thank you so much.
Dr. Aimee: Thank you to both of you for sharing so much of yourselves today and in your book. I imagine that there are going to be so many people around the world who are going to listen to this and read your book and find so much inspiration from both of you. Thank you.
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